|Castillo Case Difficult in Court, Not Field|
Written by Justin Zeth (Contact & Archive) on July 25, 2009
Remember that pitcher on Ryne Sandberg's* minor league team who flipped out last year as a crazy brawl was starting and hurled the baseball in the general direction of the opposing dugout, only with Oliver Perez's control, and hit a fan in the side of the head?
* Sandberg actually wasn't at that particular game, for the record. He was serving a suspension at the time.
If you forgot, his name is Julio Castillo. He was arrested for felony assault. A year later the good people of Dayton, Ohio, have finally gotten around to putting him on trial for it, and the arguments being made on both sides are, um, interesting...
"He decided he was going to hurt someone, anyone," [Assistant County Prosecutor Jon] Marshall said of Castillo. "He had in his hand a hard dense object, a baseball. He decided to hurl that baseball, that object, with great force."
That sounds farfetched to me. I've known people who have anger problems. You probably also know people who have anger problems. These people are not rational, and a lot of times when their anger gets the best at them, they attack whatever's nearby. A few of them do something detestable and criminal (like hit their wives or children); most of them do something stupid but ultimately harmless (like put their fist through a door or break the remote control against the wall).
But not every case is that black-and-white, and Julio Castillo's is not. I have a hard time buying that Castillo threw that baseball because he specifically decided to hurt someone. He was lashing out at nothing in particular; he was pissed off, and he took his anger out on whatever was close by, and at that particular time that was: a baseball. Now, you say that's a distinction without a difference, and logically you're right. But legally it's important, because if you want to prove someone committed felony assault, you have to prove he meant to hurt another person, specifically. Otherwise the best you can do is along the lines of criminal negligence.
If the prosecution's argument made me scratch my head, the defense's made me laugh out loud:
Defense attorney Dennis Lieberman said that as tensions between the two teams escalated, Castillo threw the ball at the Dayton dugout to keep Dragons' players from rushing the field.
"He throws it at the dugout -- at the fencing in front of the dugout -- to hit an inanimate object to scare them away," Lieberman said. "He does it because he can't talk. He can't speak English. ... He wasn't throwing it at an individual."
Now that I'm done laughing, I find that argument so offensive to my common sense that now I want to lock Julio Castillo up for wasting my time with such nonsense. He was hoping to scare them away??? Really, Dennis? His thought pattern (in Spanish, of course, but you get the idea) was, 'Gee, if only I could speak English, I would shout something very threatening and dangerous at them, and that would frighten them and make them turn around and run back into their dugout, and this crisis would be averted before anyone gets hurt! What to do, what to do... I know! I will hurl this baseball at the dugout fence, and thus they will be frightened of the other 25 baseballs I have right here in my glove and leave before I get a chance to throw them as well! Yes, that will save the day! Okay, here goes... oops! My bad.'
Really. No, really. That's what Dennis Lieberman would like the people of Dayton, Ohio, to believe.
Julio Castillo did a very stupid, childish and dangerous thing -- he threw a baseball at 90 MPH in the general direction of fans who were minding their own business and are notable for their lack of skills at catching, or even dodging, or even noticing before it has struck them in the head, a 90 MPH fastball.
That does not necessarily constitute assault with a deadly weapon. In fact, I'm pretty sure it doesn't; I'll leave the legal arguments to the lawyers, but to me it would seem like to convict someone of that charge, you have to prove he knew exactly what he was doing and what the consequences could potentially be for doing so.
Now, in the baseball realm, I still stand by what I put on the record a year ago: I would be happy if Julio Castillo never played professional baseball again. At the least, he has to be given a very severe penalty, at least a one year suspension, possibly longer. I just don't think you can send the message clearly enough to players everywhere that under no circumstances whatsoever will taking actions putting fans in jeopardy of serious harm be tolerated. I think Castillo just erupted in anger and did a stupid thing; but he has to suffer the consequences of it, for his own sake, for other players' sake, and for the game's sake.
But in the legal realm, I don't find things nearly so clear. I'd have to actually be sitting in the courtroom reviewing the evidence to really know, so I'm not going to ignorantly declare one way or another here; but I at least have doubts that stringing him up for assault is proper. On one hand, this is very, very serious; he could have killed a fan with that baseball, especially had he struck an old man or a 12-year-old girl instead of a relatively healthy 45-year-old man, and then we'd all be wanting Julio Castillo's head on a pike. On the other hand, fans are all warned, on their tickets, on signs around the park, and by the P.A. announcer, that it's their responsibility at all times to be mindful of high-velocity baseballs entering the stands, and that if they get hurt, it's not the league or the team's legal responsibility.
This is different from a foul line drive, of course, which is why we're in court now. But it seems to me that if you want to place this particular baseball that left the field of play outside that realm, you'd have to prove intent, that Julio Castillo really, truly wanted to injure someone, anyone, even potentially a fan, rather than he spazzed out and blindly hurled a baseball. That I'm really not sure about, and I'm glad I'm not on this jury.